A Narrative Discourse Analysis of Herman Charles Bosmans' Short Story 'Mafeking Road' (1932)

Term Paper, 2009

21 Pages, Grade: 1.0



1. Introduction

2. The Anglo-Boer Wars (1880-1881 / 1899-1902)

3. Herman Charles Bosman

4. A narrative discourse analysis of H. C. Bosman’s “Mafeking Road” (1932)
4.1. An overview of narrative techniques and oral-style narrative modes
4.2. Analysing “Mafeking Road” on the basis of narrative techniques and oral-style narrative modes

5 Conclusion


1. Introduction

In his current popularity, Herman Charles Bosman has come to be viewed as something of an “eternal artist” figure, conveying “marvellous home-truths for all men” (Gray 1977:79). But the truth about the later Bosman is that he became a writer who had a scrupulous, instant understanding with each passing day and each yard of newspaper that underwent his professional scrutiny. Stephen Gray suggests “that he [Bosman] meant himself to be taken as […] a commentator, a newspaper columnist, whose medium happened to be fiction” thus drawing attention to the underlying truths of South Africa (ibid.). By debunking the myth of Boer bravery during the second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) in his short story “Mafeking Road”, Bosman touches upon a subtle theme extant amongst the Boer community, namely extreme Afrikaner patriotism (Wenzel 1999:109-110). Since the British garrison at Mafeking was successfully besieged by the Boer forces for a couple of months, the Boers however, faced with the danger of the approaching British troops, which came to relieve the garrison, ran away instead of fighting the enemy. In order to keep this Boer cowardice secret, a myth of Boer bravery was constructed by the Afrikaner community which falsely portrayed the Boers’ behaviour during the second Anglo-Boer War of having been as brave as during the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881). It is against this mythical background that Bosman constructs his criticism of fanatic Boer patriotism which is implicitly rendered in “Mafeking Road”.

Since the aim of my paper is to provide an insight into Herman Charles Bosman’s short story “Mafeking Road” based on narrative discourse strategies, I will explain how and by what means of narrative techniques Bosman succeeds in criticising the notion of fanatic patriotism by overtly debunking the Boer myth of bravery. However, as Stephen Gray (1977:79-80) puts it, Bosman never “hit anyone directly over the head in his writing” despite deconstructing particular myths of the Afrikaner society in his short stories as is exemplified in “Mafeking Road”. Accordingly, Bosman’s fictional narrator Oom Schalk Lourens, is “a lovable rogue and bumpkin” as well as “a wily, deceptive ironist”, appearing “not as marginal political commentator, but as […] a figure of calm and detached reassurance from an earlier and better time” which is “irretrievably gone” (81-82).

2. The Anglo-Boer Wars (1880-1881 / 1899-1902)

Due to the discovery of diamonds, Afrikaner nationalism experienced a new challenge in defending their national identity when the British annexed Griqualand in 1871 and Transvaal in 1878 to the British Cape colony in order to mine diamonds unhindered. This annexation especially of Transvaal to the British Cape colony violated the treaty of the Sand River Convention of 1852, which had guaranteed the Boers their independence after them being driven out of Natal (Barker et al. 1995:194). What followed were protests against this annexation that were also used to expand the new political message of shared interests, Boers unity and obedience to ‘real’ leaders. This led to an increase of political consciousness among the Afrikaner community which rapidly evolved into an organized resistance movement. Due to contemporary Afrikaans newspapers such as Die Afrikaans Patriot, feelings of solidarity with the Transvaal republicans arose in the Orange Free State and among the Afrikaner community at the Cape colony (195). Consequently, the support for the cause of the Transvaal republicans by the Cape Afrikaner community meant a probable Boer uprising against the British colonial authorities.

Despite the danger of a war, the British authorities didn’t change their policy but instead, in order to administer the Transvaal region successfully, introduced a tax-collection system in 1880 which made the conflict worse. Some politicians even feared that the conflict in the Transvaal region could escalate into a Boer uprising in the rest of southern Africa. Therefore, the British Government finally agreed on granting Transvaal restricted self-government in order to avoid war (199). The governor of Natal and south-east Africa, Sir George Pomeroy Colley, was to pass on the offer of Transvaal self-government to the Boer leaders with them having only 48 hours time to react to the offer. Since this was an impossible condition with the Boers’ leadership being spread throughout the territory, the Boers attacked Colley at the top of Majuba (the Hill of Doves) and defeated the British troops. On 3 August 1881, in terms of the Pretoria Convention, the Transvaal republic became a self-governing state and after four years of annexation was united again. This re-uniting experience marked the end of the first South African War also known as the first Anglo-Boer War of 1880-81.

With the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in Transvaal in 1886, the British troops tried to annexe Transvaal again in 1895. This attempt of annexation in 1895, also known as the Jameson Raid (Pakenham 1979:xxv), worsened the already existing antipathy between the Boers and the British originating from the annexation of Natal in 1842. As a sequel to the Jameson Raid, the second Anglo-Boer War between the British forces and the Boers evolved in 1899. This war was at first underestimated by the British whose “small-war army” faced a total of only then thousand troops in South Africa compared to the Boers’ estimated potential forces of 53,700 (Pakenham 1979:71). As a consequence, the British strength was overestimated. This is mirrored in the Secretary of State’s decision of 21 June 1899 according to which ten thousand men of the British garrison were in a “thoroughly efficient state”, thus suggesting that no reinforcements were needed (72).

Finally, President Kruger of the Boer Transvaal Republic delivered the ultimatum to the British and on 12 October, the Boers’ ox wagon columns began to move forward (107). With the British troops being in the minority, the Boers managed to enter British territory due to their defensive strategy. Their aim was not to attack the enemy at their weakest point, as real offensive strategy demanded, but to find the strongest points in the enemy’s attacking force and then “smash” them (174). As a result of their defensive-offensive strategy, also known as guerrilla strategy, the Boers invaded both Natal and Cape Colony garrisons, namely Ladysmith, Kimberly and Mafeking, in November 1899.

Now, this “small-war army” had a big war to cope with, so that the British army in South Africa had to be expanded by recruiting troops from the British Empire, e.g. Ireland, Scotland, England, Australia, etc. (257). In February 1900, Field-Marshal Lord Roberts prepared a successful counter invasion to relieve the three besieged garrisons with an army of forty thousand men by imitating the Boers’ guerrilla warfare (327). But what was claimed to be a “White Man’s’ War” implicated a lot of suffering on the part of the black population in the besieged British garrisons, such as Mafeking, since the blacks were exploited as work force, e.g. to dig trenches or to guard the garrison also known as the “Black Watch” (425). In the following, Roberts captured Johannesburg in May and Pretoria in June. The last phase of the war was dominated by General Lord Kitchener’s aim to end the war quickly based on a “sweep-and-scour strategy” (552). In early March 1901, the Boers’ bases for supply were destroyed with their women and children being moved to concentration camps (where thousands died of epidemics) (522-524). However, Kitchener’s methods succeeded as a military policy, resulting in the Boers’ men running away and continuous surrender. Then, in February 1902, Kitchener ordered the execution of two Australian officers, Lieutenant ‘Breaker’ Morant and Handcock, for committing a war crime by shooting twelve Boer prisoners (571). These two Australian officers served as scapegoats for Kitchener’s war crime, namely the “holocaust in the camps” (xxii). Finally, the Boers were defeated by the British troops. Consequently, on 31 May 1902, surrender terms were signed in Pretoria and the delegates voted for peace in the great marquee at Vereeniging (603). So, Transvaal and the Orange Free State became British colonies, but the fact that a fifth of the fighting Afrikaners at the end of the war fought on the side of the British as ‘yoiners’ (the National Scouts and other collaborators) has been kept a secret (605). Despite this secret, a mythology of brave Boers evolved in the aftermath of the war, on the basis of which Herman Charles Bosman, by deconstructing the myth in his short story “Mafeking Road”, draws attention to a more subtle theme namely fanatic Afrikaner patriotism.

3. Herman Charles Bosman

Herman Charles Bosman, novelist, poet, critic and short-story writer, was born on 5 February 1905 of Afrikaner parents, Jacobus Bosman and Elisa Malan Bosman, in Kuil’s River near Cape Town. He spent most of his life in the Transvaal, thus the Transvaal milieu is mirrored in almost all of his writings (MacKenzie 2000:18). Since his father was a miner, he took the family to Potchefstroom in the Western Transvaal and later to the Witwatersrand gold fields at Jeppestown, Johannesburg. In Johannesburg, Bosman went to Jeppe Boys’ High School, the University of the Witwatersrand and Normal College, where he qualified as a teacher. At the age of sixteen he started publishing stories and sketches in school and university magazines, thus displaying literary aspirations early on. As matter of fact, Bosman was by nature impetuous and wild and it was this audacity that later induced his works.

At the age of twenty-one he married Vera Sawyer on 21 January 1926 in Johannesburg and moved two days later to the Groot Marico in the Western Transvaal, where he worked as a teacher for the following six months (19). Due to the strong impression that the Marico and its inhabitants made on the young teacher, Bosman was later able to write almost all of his 150 short stories reminiscent of this area. In July 1926, while on vacation at the family home in Johannesburg, he became embroiled in a family quarrel and shot and killed his stepbrother, David Russell. Consequently, in November, Bosman was sentenced to death. This sentence was later reduced to imprisonment for ten years at hard labor, of which he served four years in Pretoria Central Prison. As a sequel to his imprisonment, Bosman later transformed his prison experiences into the autobiographical book Cold Stone Jug (1949). On his release in August 1930, Bosman and Aegidius Jean Blignaut launched a series of short-lived satirical journals in which Bosman published his first major short story “Makapan’s Caves” (1931) under the pseudonym Herman Malan (ibid.). This short story introduced to the South African reading public its most famous fictional narrator, Oom Schalk Lourens, who begins with a remark on “kaffirs” (an abusive term for blacks):

“Kaffirs? (said Oom Schalk Lourens). Yes, I know them. And they’re all the same. I fear the Almighty, and I respect His works, but I could never understand why He made the kaffir and the rinderpest.” (Bosman 1998:74).


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A Narrative Discourse Analysis of Herman Charles Bosmans' Short Story 'Mafeking Road' (1932)
University of Duisburg-Essen
South African Cultural Studies
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Narrative, Discourse, Analysis, Herman, Charles, Bosmans, Short, Story, Mafeking, Road
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Hildegard Schnell (Author), 2009, A Narrative Discourse Analysis of Herman Charles Bosmans' Short Story 'Mafeking Road' (1932), Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/128947


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